- By Michael Bartlett
The use of asbestos has registered a dramatic decrease within the past four decades since the devastating effects of exposure were formally recognized by both national and worldwide health agencies. Nevertheless, the consequences of past asbestos exposure continue to represent a topical issue, as thousands of individuals are diagnosed with terrible diseases every year.
Surprisingly, asbestos is not entirely banned in the U.S. Although it is nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the 1950s, asbestos is not rare either. Approximately 1.3 million employees are currently exposed to asbestos in the workplace, most of whom construction workers. Despite stricter safety regulations, the risk of developing mesothelioma, a very aggressive form of cancer whose only known cause is asbestos exposure, is considerable, as even low levels of airborne asbestos may be dangerous.
Over 12,000 Americans lose their lives to asbestos-related diseases annually as a result of past exposure. However, the problem is considerably more severe in the states with a long history of asbestos use. The following ten states are notorious for their massive use of asbestos, with astounding numbers of asbestos-related deaths occurring over the course of 14 years.
California is the leading state in asbestos-related deaths, with an incredible number of 21,338 people who lost their lives to devastating diseases between 1999 and 2013. The state is home to some of the largest deposits of asbestos in the world and the mineral occurs in 45 of its 58 counties. Due to the aggressive employment of asbestos by oil refineries, shipyards, power generation plants, mining sites and marine repair facilities, multiple regions of California were deemed Superfund sites by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The cities with the most asbestos-related deaths are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose.
A tremendous source of concern regarding asbestos exposure was the former California Zonolite/W.R. Grace & Company site, which operated between 1950 and 1977. The vermiculite processed by the facility was imported from Libby, Montana as well and was discovered to contain up to 7% asbestos. Over 120,000 tons of asbestos-tainted vermiculite entered California and approximately 1,750 residents who lived near the site may have been exposed to considerable levels of asbestos, while up to 150 workers have been in prolonged contact with the toxic mineral on the job.
The following occupational groups in California are at highest risk of being affected by asbestos exposure:
A significant number of asbestos victims were veterans, as 18 Armed Forces bases in California were declared Superfund sites by EPA. Asbestos was extensively used in the military, preponderantly by the U.S. Navy, as the ships required reliable insulation.
Some of the jobsites in California which were infamous for their asbestos use include:
Although asbestos is not a naturally occurring mineral in Florida, the issue of exposure was extremely acute in the state. In addition to the great number of shipbuilding sites, marine repair facilities, power generation plants and chemical companies, an enormous amount of over 109,949 tons of asbestos has been imported in the Sunshine State from Libby, Montana. Some of the cities which received significant quantities of asbestos are Tampa, Jacksonville, and St. Petersburg. Five asbestos processing plants have also operated in Florida, while the toxic mineral was used in the sugar processing industry as well by U.S. Sugar Inc.
The geographical location of the state has contributed to the large number of shipbuilding companies in Florida, many of which used asbestos to insulate various parts of vessels, such as the boiler, engine and fire rooms, as well as the sleeping quarters. Power plants also require solid amounts of insulation, as the risk of fire is tremendous. Asbestos has represented the fireproofing material of choice for decades throughout the U.S. and plenty of power plants in Florida have a history of exposing their employees to it.
Additionally, people who had the following jobs would commonly encounter asbestos in the workplace:
Floridians are also exposed to asbestos in public buildings and homes, as the minerals were extensively used by multiple construction companies throughout the state and the majority of contaminated buildings are still inhabited nowadays. However, a series of regulations have been recently enforced to identify and reduce exposure. Florida is the second leading U.S. state in asbestos-related deaths, with as many as 14,248 residents losing their lives to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma between 1999 and 2013.
Some of the most notorious asbestos companies in Florida were:
Although the state is renowned for impressive aspects such as being the home of Benjamin Franklin and the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed, Pennsylvania also has a long history of asbestos mining. Four amphibole mines had been in use for decades in the southeastern area of the state and consequently, past asbestos exposure is a major concern for residents.
Due to its remarkable properties and accessibility, asbestos was favored as an insulating material by oil refineries, power plants, and steel mills, even though the hazardous effects of exposure have been well-known since the early 1930s. Additionally, the carcinogen was a very popular building material in the 20th century and as a result, the majority of structures constructed before the 1980s contain substantial amounts of asbestos.
Pennsylvania also imported asbestos-tainted vermiculite from Libby, Montana between 1948 and 1993. The W.R. Grace Corporation sent nearly 425,000 tons vermiculite to cities such as New Castle, Lancaster, and Philadelphia, where it would subsequently be used for the manufacturing of insulation and gardening products. Therefore, workers who were involved in the process had been extensively exposed to asbestos, many of whom have only recently been diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions due to the long latency period of such diseases.
Other occupational groups which might have been exposed to asbestos on the job in Pennsylvania include:
Within the steel industry, asbestos is used to fireproof a wide variety of appliances, including boilers, ladles, gaskets, ovens and steam pipes. As a consequence, a high risk of contamination is associated with jobs such as tender, furnace operator, millwright, welder, and pourer.
Some Pennsylvanian companies which have been sued for asbestos-related personal injuries are:
Asbestos exposure was accountable for the death of 14,216 Pennsylvania residents between 1999 and 2013, with a terrible death rate of 7.5 (the nationwide average is only 4.9).
The Lone Star State is the primary national producer of petroleum products, as well as home to numerous other jobsites with a high risk of asbestos exposure. Chemical plants, shipping companies, steel mills and automobile factories are only some of the workplaces where employees were exposed to enormous concentrations of asbestos on a regular basis. A substantial amount of 675,000 tons of asbestos has been brought to cities such as San Antonio, Beaumont, Dallas and Houston from Libby, Montana as well.
Asbestos has also been used to fireproof the protective equipment worn by workers in oil refineries and shipyards throughout the last century, while the toxic minerals were also widely present as insulation in nearly all rooms and machinery of power plants in Texas. Shipbuilding involved large quantities of asbestos as well.
Residents who had the following jobs between 1935 and 1980 are at considerable risk of developing asbestos-related diseases:
Similarly, the majority of Texas residents who were diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer had been exposed in the workplace. The following companies are well-known for having exposed their employees to high levels of asbestos and have been named as defendants in multiple personal injury cases:
According to EWG Action Fund, Texas is one of the leading states in asbestos-related deaths, with an astounding number of 11,905 people who lost their lives to mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis between 1999 and 2013.
Ohio is the largest manufacturer of rubber, plastic and metal products in the U.S. The manufacturing process of these items required a considerable amount of insulation, as machinery has a tendency to overheat, so it is probably not very surprising that asbestos has been a convenient option for decades in this respect.
Multiple vermiculite processing plants in Ohio, including The Scotts Company, were supplied with asbestos-contaminated raw mineral from Libby, Montana. Fibers were released into the air during the manufacturing process and could thereby be easily inhaled or ingested by workers who had not been provided with appropriate equipment. Steel mills entailed an extremely high risk of exposure to asbestos as well, particularly for furnace operators, machine setters, pourers, inspectors, casters, and welders.
Asbestos exposure would also represent a tremendous threat to the following Ohio employees:
Although mesothelioma is very rare, this disease was found to be oddly prevalent among Ohioans who have been in prolonged contact with the toxic mineral. Exposure to asbestos has resulted in 1,624 victims between 1980 and 2000, 66% of whom died of mesothelioma. Ohio is among the states where the issue of past asbestos exposure is critical. Between 1999 and 2013, 9,960 residents died of asbestos-related diseases.
Ohio companies which are known for having exposed their workers to asbestos include:
Illinois is another U.S. state where the problem of asbestos exposure was extremely acute, with the carcinogenic mineral having been employed by a wide range of industries throughout the last century, including power generation, agriculture, and the petroleum industry. Moreover, 30 cities in Illinois received approximately 372,776 tons of vermiculite contaminated with asbestos from Libby, Montana. Some of the facilities which processed asbestos-tainted vermiculite are located in Peoria, Chicago, Calumet City and Quincy.
West Chicago was the most affected city, as workers at the W.R. Grace & Company facility handled over 273,000 tons of tainted vermiculite between 1974 and 1990. Traces of asbestos were still present in the soil surrounding the plant in 2003, according to a test conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Even though occupational exposure implies serious health risks for all employees, asbestos-related diseases are more frequent among Illinoisans who worked in power generation plants and oil refineries. Thousands of personal injury lawsuits have been filed against renowned oil companies such as Mobil, Shell, and Amoco, while multiple power plants, including Dresden Generating Station and Zion Nuclear Power Station, have been listed as defendants in asbestos litigation cases.
Other high-risk occupations for Illinois residents who worked between 1935 and 1980 include:
Another major asbestos contamination source in Illinois is the Johns-Manville site in Waukegan. The disposal area contains approximately 3 million cubic yards of wastewater sludge. Although the company has not conducted any operation at the site since 1998, airborne asbestos fibers pose a great danger to the health of Waukegan residents.
The following Illinois companies also employed astounding amounts of asbestos during the past century:
The number of deaths caused by exposure to asbestos between 1999 and 2013 in Illinois is 9,720.
While environmental exposure is a legitimate concern for the residents of Virginia, asbestos was also the insulating material of choice for several industries in the state, such as oil refining, power generation, milling, and shipbuilding. The chemical industry also employed asbestos - preponderantly amphibole - for its high resistance to corrosion. The facilities of The Dow Chemical Company and DuPont located in Virginia used asbestos to protect surfaces such as work tables and counters, as well as in the lining of workers' equipment. Similarly, the extraordinary insulating properties of this carcinogenic mineral were exploited by the power generation industry.
The state has a history of asbestos mining as well. Although the two asbestos mines along the Blue Ridge near Richmond are both inoperative, Virginia Vermiculite, LLC, a vermiculite mine located in Louisa County, is still in use. While the mineral is not hazardous per se, it is often found near asbestos deposits in the earth, hence the high concentration of asbestos detected in the air by the Mine Safety and Health Administration in 2000. The study revealed considerable amounts of asbestos fibers in 30 air samples and 12 rock samples in the Virginia Vermiculite mine.
Employees working on shipbuilding sites also had an increased risk of contamination with asbestos fibers. Virginia's maritime industry dates back to the 1600s. Asbestos was commonly used to fireproof nearly all parts of a ship throughout the past century. Therefore, residents who had the following occupations before the early 1980s might develop serious diseases:
Both environmental and occupational exposure can be responsible for the development of severe diseases such as lung cancer or mesothelioma. An estimated number of 6,452 Virginians died of an asbestos-related disease between 1999 and 2013.
Some of the Virginia companies whose employees had a particularly high risk of contamination with asbestos include:
Even though Alabama does not have a history of asbestos mining, the employment of this carcinogenic mineral has been widespread until the 1980s, when the dangers of exposure were formally recognized. Asbestos was extensively used by manufacturing and construction companies in Alabama for its insulating properties and consequently, a large number of buildings all across the state were raised with asbestos-containing materials, including government buildings in Mobile and NASA facilities in Huntsville. Nevertheless, this has not represented a serious issue until recently, when the state was struck by multiple natural disasters, which resulted in the disturbance of asbestos products present in thousands of residential buildings.
Occupational exposure is also quite alarming in Alabama. Over 140,000 lawsuits were filed against Rock Wool Manufacturing - a cement manufacturer in Leeds which added asbestos to its products as a bonding agent - by former employees and their families. The workers who were in direct contact with airborne fibers were not required to wear protective equipment and thus, many of them developed lung-cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis decades after the first exposure.
The groups of workers which were subjected to asbestos exposure in Alabama throughout the last century include:
The pipes used by several community water systems in Alabama to provide homes and schools with water were also made of asbestos-containing cement. However, the water system overseers did not express any concern regarding the danger of exposure, saying they "doubt their pipes ever leached asbestos fibers into the drinking water". The most recent test performed to detect asbestos in drinking water was performed in 1994, while numerous systems have not been evaluated at all.
Alabama companies which have a history of asbestos use include:
According to EWG Action Fund, there were 3,137 asbestos-deaths in Alabama between 1999 and 2013.
The Pelican State has also registered a significant number of deaths related to asbestos exposure over the years. Similarly to Mississippi, Louisiana's location on the Gulf of Mexico has contributed to the development of multiple oil refineries and shipyards, which did not refrain from including asbestos in their operations. New Orleans was affected by Hurricane Katrina as well in 2005, the natural phenomenon resulting in 1,577 deaths and the destruction of thousands of buildings with asbestos-containing materials in their structure. Nevertheless, exposure to asbestos occurred primarily in the workplace.
Louisiana is home to several salt mines and, while asbestos was never mined in the state, the carcinogen was extensively used in the salt refining process. The operation conducted by Cargill, Inc. in Breaux Bridge is known for having employed asbestos to purify salt. Due to the flammable nature of oil, the toxic mineral was also present in oil drilling and refining facilities in Louisiana, including in the lining of laborers' protective equipment.
The following occupational groups in Louisiana are at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses in the future:
Citgo, Shell Oil, and Texaco are only some of the companies, which conduct oil processing operations in the state. Moreover, eight major power generation plants are located in Louisiana, as well as several shipbuilding sites. Nearly all rooms and components of a ship used to be insulated with asbestos, particularly the engine and boiler rooms, as the risk of fire was greater there.
Cement plants were another legitimate concern in regard to asbestos exposure. Both amphibole and chrysotile asbestos were involved in the cement manufacturing process throughout Louisiana. However, a 1987 study revealed that the number of employees diagnosed with cancer was considerably higher at cement plants which used amphibole asbestos, although the health risks associated with chrysotile are very serious as well.
The Louisiana companies below would expose their employees to tremendous levels of airborne asbestos fibers before the 1980s:
Between 1999 and 2013, asbestos exposure was accountable for the death of 3,886 Louisiana residents.
Mississippi's location on the Gulf of Mexico has facilitated the development of a large number of shipyards and oil refineries over the course of the past decades, while multiple power, manufacturing, and chemical plants operate in the state as well. Asbestos was widely employed by all these industries, primarily for its excellent fireproofing properties. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina produced massive damage to thousands of buildings throughout the state. Thereby, residents, cleanup personnel, and first responders might have been exposed to considerable levels of asbestos following the disaster.
Oil refinery workers have been in direct contact with carcinogenic fibers by wearing protective clothing lined with asbestos and operating the machinery, also fireproofed with asbestos, as well as by spending a great amount of time inside the buildings, most of which were insulated with asbestos-containing products. Some of the oil refineries in Mississippi known for neglectfully exposing their employees to asbestos are owned by Ergon, Chevron, and Southland.
Mississippi residents who had the following jobs have a considerable risk of being diagnosed with serious asbestos-related illnesses as well:
The electrical conduits, machinery and pipe fittings in power generation plants were also prevented from catching fire with asbestos insulation. In Mississippi, the following power plants were revealed to have used asbestos in various ways: Jack Watson Powerhouse, The Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant, and Gulf Power Plant. Other companies in the state where asbestos exposure is known to have occurred include:
Even though Mississippi's asbestos issue is nowhere near as severe as other U.S. states', approximately 1,866 residents lost their lives between 1999 and 2013 following occupational exposure to this toxic mineral.
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